Published: 09 March 2022
Mr Murali Pillai: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) whether more details can be shared regarding an application made against the Attorney-General by 17 prisoners awaiting capital punishment; and (b) what can be done to counter foreign interference on sensitive issues such as the death penalty.
Assoc Prof Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development:
1. On 13 August 2021, an application was filed in court by 17 prisoners awaiting capital punishment against the Attorney-General. The application sought declarations that in prosecuting them for capital drug offences, the Attorney-General had acted arbitrarily and discriminated against them as persons of Malay ethnicity, and had exceeded his powers and acted unlawfully.
2. On 2 December 2021, the High Court dismissed their application, finding the plaintiffs’ allegations to be baseless. The High Court went further to find that the application was an abuse of court process. No appeal was filed against the dismissal of the application.
3. On 13 August 2021, the day the application was filed, the plaintiffs’ counsel posted on social media and credited an “English Barrister” for assisting him with the application. This English Barrister appears to be associated with a London-based NGO.
4. Subsequently, before the case was heard by the Court, details of the plaintiffs’ affidavit were published online on a Malaysian news portal, even before it was adduced as evidence in court. This was a breach of the Supreme Court Practice Directions. It was also revealed that the plaintiffs’ counsel had furnished the cause papers, including the affidavit, to a group of foreign lawyers from a Malaysian human rights NGO, Lawyers for Liberty (LFL).
5. Minister Shanmugam had referred to this during the Second Reading of the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill in October last year, as an example of the chance of leakage in the court process, since the affidavit was published even though it should not have been.
6. The affidavit made completely false, but sensational allegations – designed to grab attention. In the normal course, if the matter had gone on, the allegations would have been shown to be false. But they were published before that.
7. The whole unseemly series of events: putting up false allegations on affidavit and then leaking it overseas, seems to have been an attempt to weaken public trust in the criminal justice system, stir feelings in our multi-racial society, by using foreigners. The High Court said that the allegations were “speculative assertions” and “conjecture cloaked in general interest”.
8. This is not the only time that LFL has tried to intervene in our criminal justice process. In February 2022, two other persons awaiting capital punishment applied to the Court of Appeal for leave to review their concluded appeals to set aside their death sentences. LFL attempted to participate as one of the applicants, despite not being a party to the earlier appeals. The Court dismissed this attempt as LFL had no locus standi.
9. The Member’s question on what can be done to counter foreign interference is important. As Minister mentioned in his COS speech, the death penalty remains relevant and important in our criminal justice system, as a deterrent against serious crimes, and to keep Singaporeans and Singapore safe and secure. The majority of Singaporeans support the use of the death penalty for serious crimes.
10. While other countries and NGOs may not share the same view as us, this is an issue for Singaporeans to decide. In the incident I referred to, we see them trying to mobilise public opinions, using baseless accusations to play up the issue of race – to weaken Singaporeans’ trust and confidence in our criminal justice system. We must be on our guard against such foreign interference.
11. We need to build a broader awareness amongst Singaporeans to such foreign interference.